Are you the type of person who gets excited when browsing the news and comes across a story about the world’s oldest library reopening? Do you have to limit the number of books you purchase when you travel (because of those pesky suitcase weight limits!)? Do you race to the section of the museums that house the old literary tomes and press up against the glass display cases to see the ancient texts?

Well then have we got something for you, book-loving travelers! To satiate your undoubted appetite for international literature and letters, we’ve found some awe-inspiring spots, all filled with that savory smell of books, and that’ll leave you breathless.

Here are eight very cool international libraries to add to your bibliophile bucket list:

Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris

France’s National Library contains 14 million books and printed documents, manuscripts, prints, photographs, maps and plans, scores, coins, medals, sound documents, video and multimedia documents, scenery elements (and more) that hail from intellectual, artistic, or scientific disciplines. Approximately 150,000 documents are added to the already robust collection each year. The original library was housed in luxurious buildings on the Rue de Richelieu in Paris that date back to the mid-1800s. With painted plaster accents and large round windows, they are a true feast for the eyes. In 1988, striking contemporary buildings were added to the library to house the rapidly growing collection.

Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria

Approximately 2,000 years ago, the original Library of Alexandria was destroyed. Nobody knows exactly how or why this happened, and there are no remains of this original knowledge receptacle. The current Bibliotheca Alexandrina was built in 2002 in Egypt to honor the original. Not only does it house a trilingual (Arabic, French, and English) collection of impressive proportions, the library also hosts events to foster intellectual growth and community. The library is housed in a large, graceful structure designed by the Norwegian architectural firm, Snohetta.

Centrale Bibliotheek in Amsterdam

"Amsterdam Central Library" by daryl_mitchell is licensed under CC 2.0.

Amsterdam Central Library” by daryl_mitchell is licensed under CC 2.0.

Not only is Centrale Bibliotheek the largest library in the Netherlands, it’s also one of the greenest libraries in the world. The 28,000 square meter structure was designed by Jo Ceonen, former state architect of the Netherlands, and features an original lighting design that gives the effect of “a landscape with different zones,” as well as an efficient system for drawing in cold air from outside to cool the building. Add in a source heating system, rooftop solar panels, sustainable building materials, and a long-term energy storage system, and you’ve got the greenest building in the entire city of Amsterdam.

Klementinum in Prague

Image via Flickr CC BY 2.0 – BrunoDelzant

The Clementinum is a historic building complex in Prague comprised of the Mirror Chapel, Astronomical Tower, and Baroque Library. Arguably one of the most breathtaking libraries in the world, this Baroque treasure was founded in 1781. It houses a collection that includes Czech literature and resource books that span multiple centuries and disciplines, and even some of Mozart’s personal items.

Taipei Public Library in Beitou

Located in the lush and beautiful Beitou park, this branch of the Taipei Public Library system is as architecturally striking as it is energy efficient. The wood (from sustainable forests) and glass structure was the first building in Taiwan to receive a diamond rating (the highest EEWH rating possible), which means it’s the greenest structure in the country. Not only does it make use of photovoltaic cells to generate power, there’s also a system in place to collect rainwater to flush the toilets.

The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library in New Haven


Separate from Yale University’s college library, which is what students primary use, the Beinecke Library houses the Connecticut Ivy League school’s massive collection of rare books and literary archival material. In fact, it’s one of the largest libraries dedicated to rare books and manuscripts in the world. The iconic building was designed by architect Gordon Bunshaft and opened in 1963. One of the more famous attractions for visitors to the Beinecke is its permanent display of a Gutenberg Bible, one of only 49 still in existence.

Philologische Bibliothek in Berlin

Image via Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0 – torinberl

A Berlin architectural landmark, the Philological Library (which was designed by architect Norman Foster in the shape of a human brain) opened just over a decade ago but has already become the most recognizable part of Freie Universität Berlin, one of the most prominent universities in Germany. It houses the majority of the books for the school’s humanities departments, included literature and philosophy.

The Seattle Central Library in Seattle

Image via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0 – SounderBruce

The flagship of the Seattle Public Library system, this 11-story high striking structure can reportedly hold close to 1.5 million books (there’s also an underground parking garage with capacity for 140+ cars). Thanks to its unique appearance, the library, which began architectural tours within a month of opening, has been included on the American Institute of Architects’ list of Americans’ 150 favorite structures in the US.

Know of a cool library that you think we missed? Let us know in the comments section.

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About The Author

Jen Bouchard

An insatiable foodie, art collector, and international literature aficionado, I have traveled throughout Europe, Asia, the U.S. and Canada. For the past fifteen years, I have written about my adventures for various travel and literary publications. I am the owner of Lucidité Writing (www.luciditewriting.com) and Bouchard Design Co.